In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Today’s Readings center around the response of people who find themselves in events beyond their control and are suddenly faced with being unable to help themselves. As this plays out in the Old Testament and Gospel Readings, we see very different pictures. For Naaman, the initial response is dismissing God’s command in favor of what he thought best. On the other hand, the centurion shows the response of faith played out in humility. He acknowledges that he is unworthy of any kind of help from Jesus, especially help that results in Jesus coming to his house. What both men find, as different as their responses are, is that God gives undeserved love. That is the true miracle in both Readings—not healings, not even faith. It’s the unmerited grace and mercy of God to poor, undeserving sinners.
Naaman’s event beyond his control was leprosy. As rich as he may have been, and as highly favored as he may have been by his king, he had to come to terms with his inability to cure his leprosy. Even when the king heeds the advice of a little servant girl and sends Naaman to Israel, he still wants to be in control, hence the great wealth he takes with him. He expects to buy a miraculous treatment. When Elisha gives an incredible promise—just dip yourself in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored to you and you shall be clean—Naaman marches off in a huff. He wanted a grand show—loud incantations and a wave of the hand, maybe even a poof of smoke—and then a full restoration to health. Instead he’s told to do something without pomp and show, and dip himself in the Jordan. It takes his servants arguing with him to even try to do what Elisha said, and even then, he probably only did it so he could attempt to prove them wrong. But as it always does, the Word of God in the mouth of His servant did miraculous things. Naaman did what he was told and was given skin smoother than a baby’s. In that water he met the God of Israel for whom there is no problem too big or too hopeless. He became a believer that day and confessed his faith after his conversion by God’s grace.
And then you have the Roman centurion, in so many ways the opposite of Namaan. He does not come seeking anything for himself, but on behalf of his servant, or, as he really calls him in the Greek, his pai=j, his child. This poor boy is lying at home, paralyzed and suffering terribly. The centurion tells Jesus about it, and when He, in His compassion, says that He will come immediately and heal the boy, the centurion responds in faith: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a Word, and my servant will be healed.” Jesus stares in marvel at this powerful man who confesses that he’s not worthy. He hasn’t come to impress Jesus with his wealth or position. He knows that he is unworthy to ask for anything, especially for something as great as a miraculous healing. But his faith is what drives him onward—everything he has ever heard about Jesus persuaded him that He would care and that He alone had the power to heal. When everything else seems hopeless, Jesus is the only Hope. Jesus praises that faith and shows that it is this faith alone that saves, that makes one an heir of Abraham and Isaac, worthy to sit down in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Our God is a God of promises. He has promised to give undeserved love and that is what He gives. That is why both of these Readings have become associated with the Sacraments. Naaman is a picture of Baptism—plain water, seemingly insignificant, does miraculous things when combined with the Word of God. And the centurion’s statement of unworthiness has become the traditional prayer before receiving Holy Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but only speak the Word and my soul will be healed.” No matter what the Sacrament, we are unworthy of the healing they give, the grace and mercy of God which they bestow. We are morally impure. We have sinned. We are ceremonially unclean, distracted, unprepared. But the Lord says the Word: “Take, eat; this is My Body,” so we do, at His command, as people under authority, and our souls are healed. We are joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and given a place with Abraham and Isaac by faith, made partakers of the Kingdom, temples of Christ.
The Sacraments are how God comes to us, how He works with us to heal and strengthen us when we are up against the things we cannot control, when our powers are at their end, and we have nowhere else to turn. They remind us of who heals us, who hold us, who sets us free from sin and death. These may not be great means in the world’s eyes, flashy signs with loud shouts and poofs of smoke, but to the eyes of faith, these are the greatest things to be seen. Here in lowly water, bread, and wine the Crucified and Risen Jesus Christ comes to you and gives you grace and mercy more than you could ever deserve.
So when life’s problems are too great to bear, flee to the Sacraments, to the place where Jesus comes to you, as unworthy as you may be, to give you healing, forgiveness, and life eternal. Here He will not forsake you, but will give you the only thing you truly need to bear all of life’s crosses, until you join the multitude coming from east and west to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).